“It’s not hard to make people cry. Kill a dog.”
“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” director Judd Apatow’s statement in an interview for Vulture may have been extreme, but it demonstrated an important point: comedy is one of the most difficult film genres to pull off successfully.
Indeed, it’s much easier to forgive a drama that doesn’t make you cry than a comedy that doesn’t make you laugh. Joke telling is a convoluted art form, one that’s not given the respect it deserves, especially in our current climate. But more on that later.
Perhaps the challenge is why most movies trying to get a laugh these past few years have been awful. As other genres, like superhero and horror, continue to evolve, comedy continues to regress.
Enter “Coffee & Kareem.” Released exclusively on Netflix on April 3, it crosses off every box on the bad comedy checklist: lackluster attempts at humor, boring action scenes and an attitude that says, “this is just mindless entertainment. We don’t have to try.”
Police officer James Coffee (Ed Helms) is having trouble connecting with his girlfriend’s son, Kareem Manning (Terrence Little Gardenhigh). When Kareem tries to get rid of his potential stepdad, they end up in the middle of a drug cartel’s latest sale.
With targets on their backs, the two are forced to team up and stop the crime. And they’re going to need a lot of repetitive slapstick and sex jokes that would make a seventh-grader roll his eyes to do that.
The mean spirited tone of “Coffee & Kareem” does this “humor” no favors. Both of the protagonists treat each other horribly throughout the film, to the point where I didn’t want them to become friends by the inevitable happy ending.
Not that they’re any more tolerable on their own. Kareem’s smack talk and James’ dad jokes get old the minute they start.
It’s only during the manic climax, when Betty Gilpin gets to shine as the deranged Detective Watts, that director Michael Dowse (“Stuber”) decides the movie should at least be kind of funny.
Why has laziness become the norm with comedies? When will the genre I love prove its worth to a movie viewing population that doesn’t hold it to the same level of respect as tear-jerkers?
We can’t underestimate the power of laughter. It’s especially important in a COVID-19 world, where all we need to do to see grief and suffering is check our phones. We can’t expect to grin and bear it when we can’t even grin.
So, if you’re looking for a picker-upper this month, go watch “Superbad” or “Tropic Thunder.” Or any of the other great comedies of yore. If “Coffee & Kareem” is any indication, there won’t be more “greats” anytime soon.